Late Fall / Winter Reading with a Scientist

Written by Chad Cowan

Reading has always been one of my favorite things to do and it remains my number one past time for relaxation.

Late fall and early winter are very busy times for me, both at work and at home. First at home, we have two birthdays to celebrate and multiple holidays. My youngest son, Ellery, joined the double-digit club and turned 10 this October. Ellery has mild autism, and he is deeply fascinated by giraffes. We have gone “all in” with his obsession and his room and much of his learning seems to center on giraffes (or other animals).

Last year at his birthday, his two large stuffed giraffes, Super Doctor Mummy Raffie and Tall Neck, were married by his grandfather a sea Captain at a lovely party attended by friends and family members. This year, the young couple was expecting, and we threw a baby shower for his 10th birthday party. We celebrated the arrival of “twin” baby giraffes with cake and had several baby animals join the party for people to hold and play with. A good time was had by all.

This event was followed by Halloween, which we have perfected if the objective is to collect enough candy to eat until Christmas (we may have over done it and gotten enough to last until Easter!). Next up is one of our favorite national holidays, my lovely wife Lindsay’s birthday. More cake, more stuffed animals, and good times.

Then Thanksgiving, which we hosted for 18 people and made sure we had all the family favorites, turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, brussel sprouts, asparagus, green beans, pies, cake and of course ice cream. On the horizon is our yearly trip to New York City. We plan to visit the Natural History Museum and the Metropolitan Museum this year. We usually catch a show but were unable to come to a consensus on whether to see the Rockettes or a Broadway play so may skip it this season. Finally, we will spend Christmas in the British Virgin Islands on a sailboat with friends.

At work, we just achieved 95% of our corporate goals for the 2022 (hooray!), finished a private financing, completed our performance management reviews, and set new Corporate Goals for 2023. We welcomed our 50th employee to our rapidly growing team and are moving to our new office and lab space. We’ve been so busy, we’ve all agreed to have our holiday party sometime next year when we can finally catch our breath and celebrate what we’ve been able to accomplish!

The two most selfish things I do every day are exercise and read. Reading has always been one of my favorite things to do and it remains my number one past time for relaxation. According to my Kindle app, I have read for 207 weeks in a row, with a current consecutive streak of 146 days. This year on Kindle I have read 37 novels. I read anything and everything, but still have a soft spot for science fiction and fantasy novels, my favorite sci fi novel this year was “Anathem” by Neal Stephenson and favorite fantasy series was the “Age of Madness” trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. I have to give a nod to a trilogy that I found unbelievably entertaining, “The Scholomance” series by Naomi Novik. I have recently begun reading more non-fiction books and some that made the list this year include, “How Not to Be Wrong” by Jordan Ellenberg (a delightful book about using math to make better decisions), “Algorithms to Live By” by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths (more of the same), “Popular” by Mitch Prinstein (which takes a hard look at the neuro-and socio-biology of popularity), and “Behave” by Robert Sapolsky (which integrates psychology, neurology and sociology to help understand human behavior). All in all a good year of reading.

Reading also is one of the main ways our family gets together. We still read either poems or passages from books at every dinner we sit down to. We have recently made this a bit more light-hearted for the boys’ sakes and two family favorites are a book poems, “Throw the Damn Ball: Classic Poetry by Dogs” by R.D. Rosen et al. and an updated field guide to the birds of North America, called “The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America” by Matt Kracht. These have been huge hits as they are hilarious and irreverent. Caution, they both should come with language warnings as they use some very off-color descriptors to good effect.

Finally, I read almost every night to my youngest son, who in addition to autism has profound dyslexia. I want to make sure he learns to love the joy of stories and books and for several years his mental sophistication has been well ahead of his reading level, so rather than have him pay the price I am delighted to read books of all levels for his enjoyment. We just finished the entire Rick Riordan Greek Myths multibook series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus and the Trial of Apollo). I am proud to report that we co-read the last book together (I read a page or two, he read a page or two), a major step forward in his literacy. Perhaps more enjoyable, has been listening to him read aloud the books we read every December in the run up to Christmas. Just last night he read us, “The Little Fir Tree” by Hans Christen Andersen. It is amazing to see another reader blossom before my eyes.

Written by Chad Cowan

A scientist’s weekend

Written by Chad Cowan

I have just changed careers and am challenged every day at my job. For most of my professional life I was a professor at Harvard University, where I taught undergraduate and graduate students and ran a research lab. Eight years ago, I helped start and then led the research of a new company that sought to harness the newly discovered CRISPR/Cas gene editing system to make medicines.

Fall is in full swing here in New England. It is always hard to let the last days of summer go, but with their passing comes the routine of school and work. I am definitely a man of routine. I wake early (5:30am) and spend the first 30 minutes of the day feeding the dog, catching up on reading and the news and getting my kids out of bed. I exercise, a run or a walk or yoga, anything to get the blood moving. Then it is time for work.

I have just changed careers and am challenged every day at my job. For most of my professional life I was a professor at Harvard University, where I taught undergraduate and graduate students and ran a research lab. Eight years ago, I helped start and then led the research of a new company that sought to harness the newly discovered CRISPR/Cas gene editing system to make medicines. We did the early pre-clinical work to build medicines for CRISPR Therapeutics, which now has several medicines in patients. Today, many people with sickle cell disease no longer have any disease symptoms and lead largely normal lives as a result of our first medicine at CRISPR Therapeutics. This forever changed the course of my career and has put me on the path to working on the commercial side of drug discovery, or “biotech” as it is often referred to here in the Boston area. We have combined some of the key discoveries from my academic research lab with several additional advances in the field of stem cell
differentiation to form a new company Clade Therapeutics.

At Clade, our goal is to make cell-based medicines accessible to everyone. The success of CAR-T cell therapies, wherein a patient’s own T cells are modified to express a chimeric-antigen receptor or CAR that targets cancer cells has proven the value of cellular medicines in fighting and in essence curing otherwise lethal cancers. The problem with these therapies is that they are only available at a few very highly specialized research hospitals, and they cost millions of dollars to produce. We aim to change that by differentiating induced pluripotent stem cells into T cells that look and function the same as the T cells taken from patients. Arm these with a CAR, and you now have T cell therapies for everyone with a given cancer. We hope that by changing the scale and consistency with which these cell medicines can be produced we will also change their costs, so that in the long run these medicines become available globally for every patient in need. Day-to-day, I am excited by working with our research team to overcome some of the technical challenges that stand in the way of making our goal into a reality. I enjoy the process of solving hard problems together with some enormously talented scientists. This part of my job is not so different from running an academic research lab. The new challenges for me lie in learning to build and lead an organization that has all of the critical skills and know-how to make new medicines. In particular, I am not a gifted people manager, so learning to listen and understand everyone’s perspective and knit those together into a tapestry of teamwork has been my biggest learning experience. I love learning and I am blessed that my new career has stretched both my academic knowledge and my people skills to their limits.

After work, I love spending time with my family. An important part of our day is dinner all together whenever possible. We sit at our dining room table, light the candles, eat on the fancy china, use the silver, and discuss our days. One of favorite things to do is to have one member of the family read a poem aloud. We keep several volumes of poetry next to the table for just this occasion. We have an eclectic mix of poems, some based on science, some from the acknowledged masters of the art and a few irreverent items such as poems from Cookie Monster and those told from the point of view of family pets. No matter who the author is we usually have a laugh or a thoughtful moment.

As my sons are both young and full of energy, we also have a new family rule that if you leave the table without asking to be excused you have to do a “chicken dance”. We get one of these almost every night and it leaves all of us with a smile on our face.
This weekend we have the regular fall sports for our guys, soccer and tennis and the Annisquam Village Arts and Crafts Fair. The Arts and Crafts fair brings together artists and craftsmen from all over Cape Ann (this is the small island we live on that has the larger cities of Gloucester and Rockport). I volunteered to work the “floor” on Saturday helping people with their purchases and keeping an eye on the merchandise. All of the proceeds will go to benefit the local church and the Annisquam Village Hall Association, which is a community center, library, community theater and gallery open to everyone. So, a packed weekend with fun for all ages.

Written by Chad Cowan